The Colonel’s Lament for His Dog

Sallie Ann Jarrett, loyal mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865. The only known photo of Sallie. (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)

A pervasive sense of loss seems to be a hallmark of memoirs about beloved dogs. One poignant example was written by a Pennsylvania veteran of the American Civil War whose regiment counted among its members perhaps the most famous dog of the war.

In 1867, Col. Richard Coulter, commanding officer of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry,  wrote about the loyalty of the regiment’s canine mascot, a bull terrier named Sallie Ann Jarrett. “Soldier Sallie,” as the men often called her, had faithfully followed the regiment from May 1861 until almost the end of the war.

In battle after battle, Sallie never shrank from a fight, customarily taking her place in the front lines, barking furiously at the enemy. At Gettysburg,  the 11th was forced to retreat from Oak Ridge after a Confederate rout on the first day.  But Sallie, separated from the regiment, guarded her wounded and dead companions on the battlefield for days, refusing to leave them.  Her soldiers feared she had been killed, but were cheered to have their mascot returned to them when she was found following the battle.

In his memoir, Col. Coulter reminisced about Sallie sharing the soldiers’ hardships and earning their admiration and affection with her unfailing loyalty. But there too, along with the praise, is the inevitable loss–not only the loss of Sallie’s companionship but a deeper, existential loss, and it is with this loss that Col. Coulter ended his tribute.

Sallie was killed in February 1865 in the fighting at Hatcher’s Run in Virginia. Col. Coulter’s memoir laments that “There is nothing now to mark the spot where she fell, no stone or tablet to her memory . . . ” That omission he and his men would later correct, though not at Hatcher’s Run but at Gettysburg, where the regiment’s veterans included a bronze life-size statue of Sallie on their monument. But that tribute was still many years away when Col. Coulter wrote the final lines of his tribute.

He quoted Byron’s epitaph for his dog Boatswain, which observes that history gloriously honors men not as they were “but [as] they should have been,” while “the poor dog, in life the firmest friend, whose honest heart is still his master’s own . . . unhonor’d falls, unnoticed all his worth, Denied in Heaven the soul he held on Earth . . . .”

But Sallie’s soldiers never forgot her worth. They left for all who visit Gettysburg a stirring reminder of the loyal dog who would not willingly leave them in life, and whose memory would endure long after her death.

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